Self Portrait Painting Drawing — September 2015


My 2nd Self Portrait Painting

Can we be perfectly honest here?
If you want a shock, have someone take a profile photo of you! I happened upon this revelation in my art class. I began studying with an art instructor almost a year ago.  I’ve been feeling that my formal art instruction was kind of spotty and that I had missed something.

I started from the beginning — first The Line Course, then The Tone Course, then The Color Course. Every drawing or painting is to start with the same steps. Charcoal sketch to get the lines all in the right place. Then over that a three tone painting in sepia. Then add color. And voila! Easy huh?

Well I got chastised repeatedly for not “holding the tone”, so I was required to paint a single piece of fruit — over and over. I copied several of Monet’s floral paintings and an Edward Hopper seascape. Finally, I said “I really, really want to do PORTRAITS!”

So finally last week I got to start The Portrait Course. I spent two classes doing charcoal sketches of faces — straight on, profile, 3/4 turn. And I sketched at home, too, from internet photos of celebs and old masters. The whole time I was learning to relate this part to that piece, and to the whole.

typical-facial-proportionsThere are all sorts of things to be measured. We start by dividing the face vertically into three parts. Chin to below the nose constitutes the bottom third. Then the bottom of the nose to the eyebrows (middle third) and eyebrows to hairline (top third). Try it on your own face!

From straight on, the distance between eyes is usually the width of an eye! From the side, the vertical distance from eye to chin is usually the same as the horizontal distance from eye to ear. The bottom of the lower lip vertically divides the bottom third. It is surprising how consistent these measurements are. Not carved in stone, but certainly a good place to start!! And of course, if there is any kind of tilt to the face, it throws all these handy formulas OFF completely.

Then there is the whole thing about using charcoal sticks to draw . . . so messy — hate ’em. However, the good thing is that if you find you have put that eye in the wrong place, you can just swipe it and it is GONE — no erasing! So there was another lesson learned.

The Origin of Self Portrait Paintings

Well I had been thinking for some time that I should try a SELF portrait painting. There is a long and illustrated history of artists who drew and painted themselves. Especially before the days of photography, artists had to hire models to sit for them. A self portrait painting was the logical solution — a free and endlessly patient model!

Rembrandt has a portfolio of at least 50 self portraits. The analysts go nuts drawing all sorts of conclusions from his style and pose and clothes and what it all MEANS. And poor tortured Van Gogh even painted himself with a bandage after cutting off his ear! (What was he thinking? “I’m an idiot.”) Frieda Kahlo did many self portrait paintings, and some are very unsettling — with bones and organs revealed! Here is a link to a great Web Urbanist article about a selection of famous self portraits.

Painting My Own Self-Portrait

In art class last week I announced that I thought it was time to try a self portrait painting. My teacher was receptive to this idea and took a profile pic of me. I grabbed my charcoal and worked and worked, but had a terrible time trying to get myself right. Finally, after lots of rub outs and re-dos, I had a likeness. Well, it looked like the photo; but who is that grim looking woman?! The hell of it is I thought that was my PLEASANT look!!!! More like GRIM RESOLVE! And I had no idea my nose was that, uh . . . strong! Fortunately my teacher came by and rubbed out the dark naso-labial (nose to corner of mouth) line. She said we don’t need to be THAT accurate. Hah! Thank you!

So the adventure continues. This week I am starting a drawing of a lovely lady that I will continue through the painting stages. There are so many things to remember. Relate the parts, analyze the lit and non-lit parts, hold the tone, see the planes of the face — and RELAX, have fun!!!!

WHEEEEEEEE! I know i can remember the HAVE FUN part! That’s what I do best!

About Valerie Rawlings

Austin, Texas oil painter focusing on portraits, landscapes and still life paintings
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2 Responses to Self Portrait Painting Drawing — September 2015

  1. Jan says:

    It’s you alright and you’ve worked so hard on this – but the Valerie I know and love always has a smile on her face! So get to crack’in on a few dozen more self-portraits to capture the joy, laughter and whimsy that’s in your soul and your daily life.

    • Thank you Jan! Yes, I do need a bunch of practice. In class this week i got beaten down when I brought in, what I thought was a fine looking 3 tone rub out of a woman’s portrait. It is one I had done the charcoal sketch of in class, then did the tone painting at home. WELL, the instructor didn’t like much of it at all! She thought the lines were wrong and proceeded to rework the whole thing. Then I did another step and she came and reworked THAT!!!
      As I was leaving she said “I sort of took over your painting, so why don’t you start over and take it to this level for next time?!?!!!!!Sheesh!
      I need lots of work alright. If I can live up to the instructors expectations for me, I will be really good. So far it is rather discouraging. If at first you don’t succeed…